How you manage your monkey mind will determine a lot about how successful you are at finding and maintaining a healthy life and possibly a healthy relationship.
“Mindfulness and the taming of our monkey mind is the next frontier.”
A New Index of Happiness of Hope
The more mindful you become, the more you can rise above the chatter of your monkey mind, the more successful you will become at moving your life in the direction you want. It is our distractions and distortions that hold us back from the life we desire.
Our minds keep us from striving onward through the detours and disasters of life, and often we struggle where we shouldn’t. And we can struggle for a long time. Let’s look at how mindfulness can reel in the monkey mind, and give us more direction over our emotions and energy.
When you think of happiness and hope it might be useful to take stock of our present moment, our thoughts, our energy. Here’s what mine looks like.
Containing Your Monkey Mind
If you’ve ever tried to meditate or work on quieting your mind, you’ll know exactly what is meant by “monkey mind.” It’s the reactive, animal, untamed, stream of thoughts that course through our active consciousness all the time. Many people try to ignore or subdue the monkey mind with alcohol or hyper-fitness.
Most attempts to shut down or suppress the swirling thoughts are actually counterproductive. We try to ignore a bad thought and it gets stronger rather than weaker. We try to redirect an addition (in my case, to sugar) with hard-core discipline and self-control. And again, the monkey mind overwhelms us, yet again. Let’s take a different approach.
Rather than drugging the monkey mind with alcohol or extreme exercise, rather than trying to sublimate desire for something we want to avoid, let’s move towards the pain, the struggle, the monkey mind. Let’s embrace the monkey’s paw, and get on with our lives in harmony with the furry little beast.
Redirecting Your Life
Pause. Check-in with yourself. What’s on your mind? How does your body feel? Breathe in a few deep breaths and embrace the mood/thought/regret that’s haunting you. Say hello to the monkey mind. Invite the monkey to sit beside you and rest. You are no longer going to fight each other. You’re going to have a tea party and come up with a plan to work together.
By taking a pause, to identify and listen to the monkey mind, we can begin the conversation that will quell the anxiety and unrest that comes from racing or circular thoughts. A powerful tool in understanding your particular monkeys is to label them. Let me give you an example.
I’m feeling afraid this morning. Not about anything in particular. And yet I notice a glimmer of anxiety below the surface of my activities. If I can pause and check-in with myself, I can notice the dark and repetitive thoughts. Let’s say, in my example, I’m sad because my kids have been unresponsive to my invitations over the course of the holiday break. I can identify this particular monkey: “Oh, I’m feeling parental guilt, or divorce guilt, or single dad guilt.” Whatever I want to call it, maybe just guilt, I simply label the thought/monkey. Guilt.
Then I take a few breaths and release the Guilt Monkey back into the wild. And I take the next right action as it relates to my relationship with my kids. Let’s say, in this example, I invite them on a Spring Break trip to New Mexico in two months. And then, I let it go. I let the Guilt Monkey go back into the jungle, knowing that I did all I can as a good dad, a good parent, and a loving person. I continue to act with empathy and compassion, regardless of how my kids are behaving. I’m the adult, after all.
Aligning To Your Purpose
As I get better at befriending these radical monkey thoughts that try and play havoc with my agenda or my day, I am better able to chat with them, identify and label them, and release them back into the wild. Like tagging monkeys for a research study. I tag my wild and repetitive thoughts. Then I release them fully. I let them go.
At the same time, I redirect my energy and mind towards the NEXT RIGHT ACTION. This is a big one. It’s not a philosophy. It’s a process. Just redirecting my thought or feeling into an ACTION, I am taking charge of the direction of my life. I am either pointing my actions towards my goal or away from my goal.
Another easy example. I am not eating any added sugar or desserts in January. Today, while getting lunch, I checked out at the bakery counter. I ordered a delicious-looking almond croissant. I saw myself ask for it, I observed my monkey mind, all excited for the sugar high that was nearby, and I went ahead with the purchase.
But as I got to my table, I’d already ruffled this cute monkey’s head and teased the croissant out of his hands and then out of his thoughts. I gave the pastry to a friend who was joining me for lunch. He was thrilled. His girlfriend was there too, but she was also containing a Sugar Monkey of her own. She gave me a wonderful blood orange in exchange. I was happy. My monkey was back in the wild and no longer focused on me or my love of sugar and french pastries.
Finding Contentment Every Day
As we become more conversant with our particular monkeys in our particular circus, we can also get better at redirecting the energy and actions towards goals that really matter to us. If we can redirect 10% of the energy we normally waste in procrastination, depression, rumination, drift, we can build motivation and momentum aimed at our larger goals.
Don’t know what your larger goals are? Okay. Focus on the smaller aspects of your life. Mine, for example, paying attention to my job. If I pay attention at work, do a good job, and don’t procrastinate, I know I will continue to thrive. If I get distracted, lose my focus, I can feel as the anxiety creeps back in, the Anxious Monkey, causing me to doubt myself. I cause the anxiety by not paying attention at work and then trying to tell the Anxious Monkey to leave me alone.
Embracing the monkeys in our lives. Giving the monkey a trainer is better than letting the monkey run free in our thoughts. Errant monkeys can cause us anxiety, fear, jealousy, rage. But if we learn to befriend and train them, we can start the process of getting our circus in order. We want to take our circus to the next level.
Mindfulness and the taming of our monkey mind is the next frontier.
Today, you can stop fighting the monkeys in your mind. Today, you can befriend the entire circus. And as you gain mastery over the monkeys, turning your attention over and over again back towards the important goals in your life, guess what happens? You start making real progress.
Redirecting your thoughts is as easy as:
This is the way. The monkeys are your friends. And you are the ringmaster of your heart and mind. Where do you want to take your circus next?
IMAGE: Paraiso Yoga – Sayulita Mexico.